“Hey Walt, how’s retirement?”
The elephant swept his great gray head from side to side, searching for the source of the tiny voice.
“It’s okay,” he said.
A rustle in the straw revealed the nose of a white mouse.
“Do you miss anything about the circus?”
“Is that you, Max?”
“What do you miss most?”
“I miss being somebody,” Walt said, “I liked the work. These days, I’m just a waste of hay living off generosity.”
“Welcome to our world,” the mouse replied.
“I never had a problem sharing with you guys,” Walt said, “you keep me entertained.”
A few more heads poked out of the straw.
“I guess that puts us in the same business,” one of them squeaked.
“I won’t miss the stress, though,” he said.
Max turned to his buddies and wise-cracked, “Oh, the pain of being a celebrity.”
That busted the mice up. One of them wiped imaginary tears from his eyes. Another crossed his paws over his heart and swooned in mock sympathy.
Walt trumpeted and raised a foot as if to stomp his tormentors. They scattered in make-believe terror.
“C’mon guys,” Walt pleaded, “famous is about what you have done, not what you have to do.
You never had to face a crowd every night, not knowing if they would clap with glee or stare cold as stone at you.
And it never made a difference how you performed.
One night you might sleep walk through your routine and they would love you. The next night, you could give them your all, and you might as well be performing in a cemetery.
It never made any sense.”
“So do you miss the fame?”
“Not at all, but it was nice to be worth something.”
“Do you miss anything else?”
Walt thought about it.
“I miss the times when it all came together,” he said, “you could see it in the faces of the children. You knew you were making them happy, and that was good– but the best was when their happiness became so much more than what you gave them.”
Walt’s sincerity struck his critics dumb.
Outside the stable, snowflakes fell like feathers through the night air and as moment after moment of silence passed through the stall, it grew so quiet that Walt could hear them settling to earth.
“It was magic,” he whispered to break the calm.
Max took a step forward and in all seriousness, said “I want you to think about something. Was it making magic that delighted you or seeing the delight that magic made?”
“You are talking in riddles,” Walt said.
“No, I’m not.”
“I am not getting you.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Oh..oh, I got it! You are asking me if I would still make magic even if I never saw the effect.”
“I would still make that kind of magic.”
The mice then formed a half circle in the straw and looked up at Walt as if they knew all about what was going to happen next.”
“Do you want to do it again?” Max asked.
“More than anything.”
“Good, here is our plan. On the other side of that fence, you will find a perfectly good doll house that someone callously tossed into the trash. Fetch it and set it on a branch of the twisted tree you will find in the same backyard. We will meet you there in an hour.”
“I don’t get it.”
“An elephant, a tree and a doll house with white mice on the roof. What could be more magically whimsical than that?”
“I still don’t get it.”
“You are not the only friend we mooch off of.”
“We know an illustrator, a maker of children’s books who would love to draw just such a scene – and let’s just say we owe her a favor.”
“Uh-huh…. It is the stuff of bedtime stories. Think of millions of children snuggled in their quilts or propped up on their pillows, giggling at our whimsy.”
And Max was right.
The magic they made that night lasted for as long as there were bedtime stories, children, quilts, pillows and books.
This story was in response to D. Wallace Peach’s wonderful monthly writing challenge: February’s Speculative Fiction Prompt
Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala